Automotive marketing and COVID-19

Automotive marketing and Covid-19 hardly seem compatible – just like other sectors, the car industry is having to cope with the impact of the current pandemic and a ‘new normal’.

Car sales are suffering as showrooms have been forced to close. In the UK, new car registrations fell 44% in March, which is a steeper drop than during the 2008 recession according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). They also fell in Italy (by 85%), France (72%) and Spain (69%). 

Automotive marketing and Covid-19 – to run campaigns or not?

However, just because physical sales, automotive marketing and Covid-19 are creating issues, that doesn’t mean things should stop. Global Web Index recently found that 50% of people approve of brands running ‘normal’ advertising campaigns that aren’t linked to coronavirus, with only 20% expressing outright disapproval. However, there are higher approval ratings for brands running campaigns that show how they are responding to coronavirus and helping customers (around 80%). Find out more in our blog, Marketing during the Coronavirus.

We know there are many steps in the car purchase journey before anyone even sets foot in a showroom. Luth Research discovered one consumer had 900-plus digital interactions leading up to their car lease. And now with more time spent indoors, consumers are turning to their digital devices in their droves, so brands that target and engage those in the ‘research’ stage of the sales funnel – and do so in a coronavirus-sensitive way – will triumph through this adversity.

Interestingly, a recent What Car? survey of nearly 3,000 active online car researchers found that 18.2% said that they intend to buy their next car immediately after the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

If that isn’t enough to prove that automotive marketing should continue through the coronavirus outbreak, then take a look at the five ‘gears’ some brands are using to navigate marketing during the lockdown.

First gear – do something practical

Almost all car manufacturers are offering customers some form of financial relief from their car payments during the coronavirus outbreak. This is hugely beneficial and valuable to consumers. But Volkswagen is leading the way with how it’s doing this with their Community Driven Promise.

The car brand has ended its advertising campaign for its new Atlas Cross Sport crossover in favour of adverts promoting its financial relief for buyers who finance through Volkswagen Credit.

At a time when people are feeling isolated and worried, Volkswagen’s ‘Community Driven Promise’ promotes the scheme with real-life American VW dealers spreading a message many want and need to hear right now: “we’re here for you”.

By acknowledging that the coronavirus is happening, doing something practical to help its customers and offering an emotionally supportive message on top of that, Volkswagen is winning at the pandemic marketing game.

Second gear – entertain

Obviously, it’s not just the practical help that automotive consumers appreciate during this time. BMW has gone into entertainment mode, hosting a series of live podcasts with its influencer network, such as professional racing driver and paracyclist Alessandro Zanardi and singer/songwriter Tim Schou. 

They’ve also partnered with five of the world’s top e-sports organisations, recognising that the recent growth in e-sports’ audience has been given a boost during the coronavirus outbreak, which has put many physical sports on hold too.

Bentley Motors has done something similar, entering the virtual SRO E-Sport GT World Challenge Europe Series to entertain those frustrated motorsport enthusiasts.

Who’s going to be front-of-mind when this lockdown ends? The brands that made you smile. 

Third gear – bring people together and mean it

As mentioned above, being in lockdown has left people feeling isolated and concerned, so many brands are switching their marketing message to boost community spirit and provide comfort to consumers. However, this can come across as shallow profiteering from a crisis – or ‘corona-washing’ (similar to greenwashing) – unless there is some tangible action behind it.

Land Rover is fortifying its new tagline: “It’s the toughest roads that make us who we are. Together we’ll get through this” by providing 105 of its vehicles to support the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world

Now is not the time for empty promises and faux empathy in automotive marketing. But if you can adopt a caring message alongside genuine investment, consumers will think the better of you for it. 

Fourth gear – host an event

Not the most obvious, right? But Audi successfully did just that in April. 

Harnessing that comforting messaging, as part of their #AudiTogether campaign the brand sent a “signal for solidarity” by livestreaming a concert from an Audi production plant featuring star violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who is also artistic director of last year’s Audi Summer Concerts. Oh, and they gave €5 million in aid to support national and international humanitarian causes. Tangible action is important, remember!

“In times of social distancing, music is balm for the soul more than ever,” commented Dr Sabine Maaßen, board member for Human Resources and Organization at AUDI AG. “To be separated spatially, and at the same time to be united in experiencing a concert of this kind, reinforces the sense of community.” 

Volkswagen also harnessed technology to host an event of sorts. Following the cancellation of this year’s Geneva International Motor Show, the brand made their stand available online. Users could take part in a guided tour of the stand or control their visit individually, clicking to interact with the exhibit. Afterwards, a registration page allowed visitors to opt in to receive offers in the future.

Brands that are refusing to let physical barriers prevent them from hosting events are certainly capturing the imagination of the locked down public, proving resilient and adaptable while giving people something to do. 

Fifth gear – find a tech solution

Skoda responded quickly to the coronavirus crisis and made its digital Virtual Showroom fully remote. Product specialists are on hand from their homes throughout the week to speak to customers researching their next car and offer live interactive demonstrations of the latest Kamiq, Superb and Karoq models.

The move has proven extremely popular, with hundreds of calls taken each week so far. Skoda reassures people that the product specialists aren’t salespeople. They are there to educate, so the car brand is very much targeting customers in the ‘research’ phase – an ideal strategy at a time when physical test drives are out of the question. 

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak causing the mass closure of car showrooms, automotive brands are proving the value of sensitive marketing at this time.

Ultimately, the winners and losers of automotive marketing during the coronavirus outbreak will not be obvious until after the lockdown is lifted.

And those who have succeeded should have remained front-of-mind. What’s clear is that it is essential to keep going in some capacity. Acknowledge the elephant in the room, but don’t let short-term disaster derail long-term survival.

If you found this of interest, we have two reports on the automotive industry that you may find useful:
Automotive Marketing Report
The Power of Brand Communities Report – The Automotive Edit